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Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons
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California Poet Laureate Al Young

La múcura está en el suelo, Mama, no puedo con ella.
La múcura está en el suelo, Mama, no puedo con ella.
Chiquito, si tu no puedes con esa múcura de agua,
Llamaste al buen San Carlos pa' que te ayuda cargarla.*

—Traditional Mexican folk song

Jesus—or, rather, Jesús!—the harvest moon hangs full over Half Moon Bay this summer-gone night, gone Friday already, gone Saturday, gone Sunday family-time. You might as well be back in Sinaloa, Jalisco, Zihuatanejo, Chihuahua, Michoácan—this is where you're coming from. Tomorrow better be better for work. That 700-mile wall going up around la frontera, Gutiérrez, is to keep your colorful ass out. "When are you Mexicans and Latinos going to do something for yourselves?" you, a kind-hearted woman who studies evil all the time, asked. All smiles, the grown-man-you said flat-out: "When you're ready to strap on the leaf-blower, and go for yourself." Is it the undertow, or what, that's got you so quiet tonight? What's holding you in? Don't go floating no more funny notes in bottles out across the Pacific. They might explode like some mercury-choked thermometer. No Waikiki, no Tokyo, no Pyoon-Yang, no Seoul to reach. Fever—that's what's felling this sweet land you left the sea to crawl and walk, and now we've got us crawling again. It's all so hard to throw down, but easy to fix. Mix sexy-night memories of Veracruz with someone warm to touch and reach for on foggy, dewy nights on a kidnapped coast. Blanketed, all salt and fetal pull, you warm your floating bones by fires the two of you alone can kindle, watch and feel. What about Mazatlán? What about Aztlán, where, when you messed up, did wrong, got caught or owed too much, you got to choose: Rot in your Guanajuato cell or get packed off to California—a distant land named after Califía, queen of a country of amazons, black as the sea at night and just as fierce? If you worked hard, if you acted right, you might could pay your debts and even land some land. But, don't you forget, Gutiérrez, you're still property. For now enjoy, disfruta. Make sure your tools are sharp, in shape; your body rested. Your mind, at sea right now, adrift, must pull itself ashore to make the journey inland, dreaming of Aztlán all day long. You're one of the lucky ones, you with your seaside room, where, all crash and wash, cold waves of timelessness push back the hours and light the ear. Where do you come from, where do you go? Stuff that time always needs to know. You always were, you always are, you'll always be sea-swept and sacred by degrees: 98.6 Fahrenheit, 22.7 Celsius. Jesus, Jesús!

*—a loose translation:

The big water jug's on the floor, Mama, I can't deal with it.
The big water jug's on the floor, Mama, I can't deal with it.
Well, little one, if you can't handle this big jug of water,
Call on good old Saint Carlos to help you tote it.

Al Young  

Al Young is poet laureate of California. Born 31 May 1939 at Ocean Springs, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast near Biloxi, he grew up in the South and in Detroit. He attended the University of Michigan, and in 1961 emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area. Settling at first in Berkeley, he held a variety of colorful jobs (folksinger, lab aide, disk jockey, medical photographer) before graduating from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Spanish. From 1969-1976 he was Edward B. Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford. Young has taught poetry and fiction writing at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, Foothill College, the Colorado College, Rice University, the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, the University of Arkansas, Davidson College, Appalachian State University, and San Jos...

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